Advent 2016

Today is the first day of Advent! Do you celebrate? Do you know what it is?  Advent is one of the things I really miss about traditional church.  How do you feel during the weeks leading up to Christmas? Maybe the overwhelming spirit of materialism makes you sad, or maybe you feel only stress and long for some peace. Maybe you just really want your kids to know they are receiving a gift infinitely bigger than video games or lego sets.

Advent is a 4 week season to remind us that Christmas is about hope, peace, joy and love. It allows us time to realize we are doomed by our sin and lets us prepare our hearts for the arrival of our savior. By Christmas day we are ready to celebrate the savior who keeps his promises, loves abundantly, and will never abandon us.

If you’ve celebrated Advent the same way your whole life, maybe this is the year to do something different. There are many Advent traditions that have evolved over the past 2000 years, some are ancient and some are brand new.  I love how the Holy Spirit continues to push and inspire us to find new ways to relive this familiar story. Sometimes a change in practice allows us to see the story in a new light, or from a different character’s point of view.

If you’ve decided to practice Advent this year, I compiled some resources to help you and/or your family. I have used them myself and with my family. They have given me new ways to think about familiar scriptures, and have led our hearts away from the frenzied consumerism and back toward the earth altering event in Bethlehem.

The Advent wreath has 4 candles on the outside, with a large one in the middle, and it visits a different part of the Christmas story each week. It varies from church to church, but the point is to cover major themes: the prophecies which bring hope, the preparation which (oddly enough) brings peace, the shepherds who receive joy, and the angels who sang of God’s gift as love. Finally, on Christmas day, you light the Christ candle to remember his humble but awesome birth.  Lighting the Advent wreath is my favorite Christmas memory from childhood. Each Saturday night we would gather around the wreath, my parents would trust me to strike matches, and we would light the new candle. We followed the same litany each year, which was a poetic combination of scriptures, prayers, Christmas hymns, and a specific reading for kids to tell what the candle was about.

There are many scripts to use for lighting the candles online if you google Advent wreath scripts, but this one is my favorite for families and young children:

https://mikemilton.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/advent-readings-and-lighting/

Jesse Trees  show us how the Christmas story relates to the rest of the bible with a new ornament and bible story each day.  I usually gather the trimmings from the tree and put them in a vase. Some people buy a small table top tree, or just put the ornaments on their larger family tree. The reading plans go through the major bible stories chronologically and help us trace God’s promise and our need for a savior through history.  When you’re finished with the bible story, hang an ornament relating to the story on the tree. You can buy ornaments, or make them, or just print the ornaments and color them.

Ann Voskamp has perfected the Jesse tree, she has written beautiful books for adults and families. The books take you through the scriptures with devotionals and matching ornaments (which you can print for free or buy.)

annvoskamp.com/thegreatestchristmas/

Holy Heroes also offers an Advent Adventure program, which is a  combination of Advent wreath prayers and Jesse tree ornamets. Each day you get an email with a new video, and links to activity pages, prayers, and kids devotionals. This is a Catholic resource, so I skip the parts about mass and about praying the rosary, but if you’ve never celebrated advent before those parts may help understand the history and the symbolism of advent. The Jesse tree links have their own videos and printables though, and can be used across denominations.  The other awesome part about program is its FREE!

Sign up for your daily email here –holyheroes.com/Holy-Heroes-Advent-Adventure-s/48.htm

A Christmas Craft Calendar is very similar to the Jesse tree, but focuses more on the Christmas story and less on the entire Old Testament.  

A list or crafts and bible stories can be found at  truthinthetinsel.com 

Every day you create an ornament with your kids for the tree, and read the scripture that corresponds. The ornaments are fairly simple, made with common craft supplies. If you think your kids would love it, but 25 days of crafting sounds crazy, don’t fret! There are shorter plans, with ornaments for just 5 or 10 days. There are also backup printable ornaments that only need to be colored if you’re missing the supplies on any given day. I would recommend it for kids between 4 and 10, although I had a lot fun helping my kids last year and I’m 35.

Photo challenge is for visually minded learners, and maybe teens who want nothing to do with things like circle time or coloring pages. A photo challenge has a list of Advent keyword topics relating to the lectionary readings for the day. Snap a photo that embodies the topic and keep it in a gallery to meditate on, or share it on Instagram/facebook/twitter/whatever to minister to your friends and other visually minded people.

rethinkchurch.org/articles/spirituality/2016-advent-photo-a-day-practice

Bible journaling- Have you seen the art people draw in their bibles? Search  #biblejournaling and prepare to be amazed! It’s a beautiful outlet for people who are crafty AND inspired by scripture to put those talents together.  Drawing, writing, painting, or crafting in response to the word challenges creative minds to see familiar Christmas scriptures in entirely new ways.  Scripture Writing is for the person who loves the idea of bible journaling but is about as crafty as a lumberjack. Scripture writing is basically copywork for grownups- copy down the daily scripture, (about 5 verses) word for word.  It can be in beautiful calligraphy with embellishments, or written on a legal pad in pencil. Pray over the passage, and scan it for words and phrases that God is speaking to you. Then highlight these things, or retrace them, while thanking God for his faithfulness.

The benefit of both practices is that you’re engaged with the Word, removing the temptation to space out while reading the parts that you’ve read 100 times. Both practices can be done year round, but there are special resources to help you focus on Advent.

Journaling: seasonsillustrated.com/announcing-advent-illustrated-2016-calendar/

Scripture Writing (starts dec.1) thebusymom.com/scripturewriting

Devotionals Almost everybody puts out an Advent devotional, there are several inspiring ones for free on the YouVersion bible app. The ladies at She Reads Truth also deliver goodness every single day, and they expand their offerings during Advent to minister to kids and hubbies too! Their workbooks are beautiful and worth the price, but you can also follow the readings and devotionals daily for free on their website. shopshereadstruth.com/collections/advent-2016

Daily reading-shereadstruth.com 

I hope you and your family will take the time this next month to celebrate Advent! If none of these resources work for you, I hope you will at least be intrigued by the concept and find your own way to celebrate.

 

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The Best Worst Thanksgiving

     I was 23 when I decided to host my first Thanksgiving. I love this holiday, it’s the last holiday still unspoiled by hallmark and commercialism. It’s hard to ruin a holiday about gratitude, but my parents divorced earlier that year, and celebrating wasn’t very exciting My main solace was that I knew I was not alone in my dysfunction, most people I knew dreaded family gatherings and had a similar feeling of unbelonging.  In fact, most of my friends I had met working as a bike messenger, and we always joked that a messenger without a girlfriend is called homeless.  Most of them were single, and I thought it would be a fun to pretend we were all happy, and could belong to each other like on misfit island, and share a big ol’ traditional meal.

I let everyone know if they wanted to celebrate, we could do it at my house. It looked abandoned from the outside, but it had an enormous eat-in kitchen which was perfect for entertaining. The exposed electrical wiring and chipped, possibly lead, paint just made it even more of a perfect setting for a gathering of lost souls. I imagined the night would be like an Adams family Thanksgiving, set in a spooky old house, with crazy people, delicious food, and enough alcohol to forget about Norman Rockwell types of celebrations. It would be so fun, no one would even miss the idea of family.

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Photo cred. Kevin Dillard, http://www.demoncats.com

 Guests

      My boyfriend, Adam, loved the idea of not going home. Growing up his dad was in the navy, which made them nomadic, and my rowhouse was as much a home to him as any.  Also, at the time there were unavoidable issues he would have to face at home, other people with addictions, his own addictions, a nasty brother in law, and some memories he’d be fine to forget. He was quite happy not spending money to travel down to Georgia just to get in a fight, and I was relieved he had agreed.  No one would come if they thought I was cooking the turkey, but Adam had was a chef, and agreed to cook the entire meal if I would make him pumpkin pie for dessert.

       I thought I would ignore my parents completely, but my Dad wasn’t going home either since he had to work. When I called, he said he was planning to volunteer at a homeless shelter instead, and I told him if he wanted to eat with a bunch of surly strangers who didn’t belong anywhere, he could do that at my house.

But inviting him did not fit with my plan. I was pretty sure most of my friends wanted to get drunk. They were mostly heathens and atheists and my dad’s idea of a good time was reading Karl Bart while listening to sacred music. If he came, he would be coming straight from church which meant he would certainly be wearing his white daffy duck collar, and maybe a suit. He had sternly disapproved of my decision to become a bike messenger, my house, my lifestyle, and the people in my life.  Luckily, divorce had brought some fresh humility into our relationship, so he bravely accepted my invitation.

     The actual problem with my plan turned out not to be my dad at all. My friends, crazy though they were, were less willing to abandon their families in favor of debauchery than I had assumed. And the people who were going to stay home had been so abused by that they had no interest in celebrating anything at all. My only roommate who stayed home hated turkey, and said he just wanted to lock himself in his room with an 18 pack of cheap beer, and spend the day listening to death metal.

But not Ed. He was almost always an exception. I adored him, as almost everyone I knew did. He was private, but his collections of punk rock records and vintage Italian bike parts were infamous. He had the nastiest dreadlocks, cultivated out of a complete aversion to shampoo and hairbrushes and a mustache, which made him look oddly Parisian.

I was surprised he wanted to come, since he hung out pretty rarely, but I’ve always admired that he didn’t back out when I told him my dad was coming too.  He was a vegetarian, so he wasn’t lured by the promise of turkey.  I’m sure he desperately wanted to eat something besides pizza. I’m sure he felt some pity for Adam, not wanting him to be stuck alone at a table with my dad all night.  I knew his family lived too far away to buy plane tickets home, but apparently they had instilled the same love for a gathering and a feast that I had come to love, and I was glad he wouldn’t be sitting home alone.wp-1478542963582.jpgThe Dinner

     As the meal approached I started to regret everything about the dinner. The guest list was smaller and more mismatched than I had imagined, and I quickly learned that pie from scratch was beyond my baking skills. I was so worried about being a hostess and I had no idea how to create conversation among such incredibly different people.  How could I have been so foolish to think we could all come and laugh together, and that would solve anyone’s problems? There wasn’t much worth laughing about right then, anyways.

     When we all finally sat down, it was everything I was dreading. The food was delicious, but no one knew what to say. My dad stared at the crumbling plaster walls, and asked if I needed some money. Ed nervously assured us that the tofurkey he brought was  food, even though it looked like dog barf.  I tried to catch Adam’s eye so he could make some adorable joke or use his southern charm to break the ice- but his mouth was stuffed with turkey.  I felt horrible that I had invited extremes of people and expected them to get along.

But between everyone’s first and second servings, the ice broke with a story about peeing in a trough. It was startling for everyone to learn the injustice male discrimination in stadium bathrooms.  They enlightened me with every horrifying detail; the length, the texture, the difference before and after a football game. We laughed at their experiences of fear, of dodging drunk football fans and of urine streams gone crazy.  I was horrified to learn that they didn’t even have doors on the few toilets that were in there. How do you poop? The men were outraged to learn that, even at a stadium, women’s bathrooms always have stalls with actual doors, AND locks. They cried at the injustice, and the conversation continued for quite a while, until I showed everyone the pie I made. Suddenly they were full and ready to go home.

* * *

     Years later, after Adam and I married and left DC, Ed died.  His individuality made him so lovable, but it was also part of what isolated him. I guess being an outsider made it too hard for him to fight against the hold that alcoholism had on him, and he lost his battle a few years ago. When he passed, Adam and I each remembered this as our favorite memory of him, and surprisingly, my Dad actually said it was one of his favorite  Thanksgivings too. I felt bad about subjecting Ed to my family drama, but I felt worse that he didnt feel at home at more brokn gatherings.  More than anything, I wished Ed knew how seeing him laugh with my dad made that my best Thanksgiving yet, even though I was so sure it was going to be the worst.

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     Somehow the weirdness of it all saved it. The celebration was shabby and the people brokenhearted, but that made it more real and beautiful than anything I had imagined. I still stress out about hosting people, but now I know nothing is as important as letting people know you don’t want them to be alone. And it’s okay if it’s awkward, because even the saddest people might find a trough to laugh about.